Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Copyrighting Ideas

A note on Repo Men vs Repo! The Genetic Opera:

Dear rabid fans of Repo! who are pissed off about Repo Men Stealing Repo!'s Idea:

That "stolen" idea was not original.

(Here's a recap for those who have no idea what I'm talking about.)

One of the writers of Repo! gives us a "history lesson" on his blog, demonstrating that Repo! was kicking around in some form or another all the way back to 1999. The implication is, of course, that since the idea for Repo Men was first made public in 2001, OMG THEY STOLE OUR IDEA!

Except... just a cursory Google search turns up the 1997 award-winning play "Harvest", whose central plot bears suspicious resemblances to the idea behind Repo!. And further, while I can't quote examples offhand, this whole organ-buying idea pops up a lot in cyberpunk. 1997 is before 1999. OMG plagiarism!

(There's also the mention on that blog post that the similarities became too much for the Repo! author to "bare" reading more when he found out that in both stories, the company the repo men works for turns on them when they go rogue. The funny thing is, I've only seen parts of Repo!, and I guessed on my own that this would happen once I knew the Repo Man himself was a character. It's that bloody obvious of a plot twist. Protagonist works for evil corporation and goes rogue, then they hunt him down. Gee, I've never seen that plot before!)

This is not to knock Repo! itself; as I mentioned earlier, I've only seen parts, but I can't dislike anything that has Anthony Stewart Head singing in it. The point is, all ideas have been done before, and this could just be bad timing.

I can see where the outrage is coming from, given the concept similarity and the oddly identical marketing campaigns, but still. At least wait until the actual film comes out, why don't ya?

And a final point: Shit like this happens all the time, just not usually to cult films - because most cult films have silly central ideas. No one's going to make anything that could be accused as a rip-off of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, because you can't do much else with that idea. Repo!, though, uses a pretty iconic idea with a clear real-world metaphor. A claim of coming up with something at the same time as someone else, though, isn't necessarily bullshit. Take the word of a script reader for it:

Like one time, I swear, I covered three different screenplays -- submitted from different parts of the country -- all of which had key scenes set at a southwestern rattlesnake farm. Why, you could go years without reading a good rattlesnake farm scene, and here I had three in one week. Needless to say, after that I became more sympathetic to claims of 'parallel development.'

And it's true. That's why, if you're writing a book or a script, you can never hope to coast along with a crap story and a great original idea. After all, won't they forgive the crap story for the original idea that they can't get anywhere else. No. Because that idea? Probably not as original as you think. So you better have a great execution, because that's what will make it or break it.

What triggered this post was an article on Tor about the subject here, a well-written article that nearly had me nodding in agreement by the end:

Let this be a warning to creative people everywhere: guard your creations well, but at the same time steel yourselves for the possibility of a Repo befalling you. You can copyright your stories, you can copyright your art, but you cannot copyright the beautiful ideas that give them their uniqueness and life. It is frightening and it is upsetting, but it is inescapable.

But wait. Would it really be such a great idea to copyright ideas? That would eliminate entire genres; the Tolkien estate could sue almost every epic fantasy writer ever into oblivion, and that's actually one of the better scenarios, since at least we'd still have Lord of the Rings. Very often, the first work in a genre is not that great. Plus, you'd simply have powerful corporations hire writers, however crappy, to come up with as many story ideas as possible and publish them as crappy short stories, claiming copyright based on that and suing the pants off of anyone else who comes up with a similar idea independently and makes something good with that. Now that's frightening and upsetting.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Morning Pages

A few months ago, a dear friend/romantic partner of mine introduced me to the concept of "morning pages". Taken from the pages of the rather popular book The Artist's Way, the idea of morning pages is that you write three pages of whatever comes to mind, first thing in the morning, every day. You're not writing anything good, sensible, or even true; you're getting all the bits and pieces out of your head and onto paper.

When I first heard about this, I balked. Get up early? Voluntarily? Just to write? God save us all!

But then I did it. And it turned out very well. So well, in fact, that I haven't skipped a day since I started doing this months ago. I confess I've yet to read much more of The Artist's Way, but these Morning Pages have been immeasurably helpful to my writing. Many times - including the past two mornings - I've solved big problems in stories I've been working on, problems that would have ordinarily plagued me for months before resolution. So, suffice to say I'm a believer.

For the record, I write 3 pages or more, double-spaced, in a Word document. This is despite recommendations that these pages be written by hand. I have yet to find a reason why, though, besides a theory that writing the pages more slowly by hand makes you think about what you're saying more. However, for me, it's easier to take off my (powerful) internal censors when I type them out.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Rambling on Fantasy

Because I am lazy, here's a blog post I wrote a while ago - October 2007, in fact - yet never finished:


'Burying reader under a dumpload of facts' (I think I stole that quote from someone, not sure who anymore) is the bane of sf/fantasy. One of the banes, anyway. It's a bit difficult to have an outsider's perspective when you're making up the world in your own head.

Then again, that doesn't take cliche into account. The Lord of the Rings Rip-Off No. [Insert Arbitrarily Large Number Here] may well count as being written with an 'outsider's perspective'. In fact, the parts of the regurgitated fantasy world the author invented themselves stick out because those are the only parts the author bothers to explain. Unfortunately, this can be extended to plot and character motivations just as much as setting...

And there's always things like vampires, where authors sometimes even start out by explaining which cliches are true, which are untrue, and which the narrator (read: author) thinks are utterly ridiculous (read: unkewl). (Vulnerability to garlic? Not in MY vampires!)

Annoying though this is, it does speak to a central problem of sf/fantasy, which, come to think of it, is merely an exaggerated version of the Setting Problem all stories have - how do you get all this info across to your reader without annoying them? Which is bad, which is good? Purely, I suppose, good info would be info relevant to the character, and bad info would be info relevant only to the author. But what about info irrelevant to the character, but relevant to the reader?

I guess that's why the Newbie Initiate character is so popular. Too bad they're usually boring as shit.

No Sex Scenes Yet

Wait. Not NO sex scenes, just only one. Yes, I've only completely written one sex scene, so far, like, ever. And it was a horrible awkward thing - as in the sex, not the scene (I hope).

What's holding me back? Oh, heteronormative puritan sensibilities whispering in the back of my subconscious that I've struggled all my life to overcome. And sheer terror. The usual.

Ironic, then, that my blog title is currently "Fairies, Sex, and Spacemen." I'm good on the fairies and spacemen. The sex? We'll see.